The word “energy” probably evokes the imagery of machinery and electricity in our minds. It’s not surprising then to learn that biomass is less known as an alternative source of renewable energy that can be used at home, especially in North America. This is ironic, since biomass is one of the oldest known sources of renewable energy and has been persistently used since the discovery of fire.
While today, a lot of attention is being paid to renewable sources of power generation, especially wind and solar, as a means of moving away from dependence on oil and coal. We should also focus on biomass energy generation as a means of achieving this noble goal of energy independence from oil.
What Is Biomass?
The term biomass refers to organic carbon-based matter that has stored energy through synthetic processes such as photosynthesis. The heat energy from the sun is trapped by the chlorophyll in plant leaves and then subsequently transformed into chemical energy.
This chemical energy is consumed and converted to various forms that can provide power to daily activities. Litter, fallen leaves, crops, wood chips and other plant materials are just some examples of biomass. Its ubiquity makes it a widely available source of energy and it has powered civilizations into prosperity and progress.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Biomass Energy
Advantages of biomass are quite easy to count:
- Since they are natural and organic substances, they give out no harmful emissions and are quite safe to use with little danger of polluting the environment. The usage of biomass may lead to a reduced need for landfills and the rate of garbage production.
- They are readily available in the environment and easily renewable.
- Biomass is a versatile source of energy and can be used to produce a wide array of products and processes. Wood products could be used to produce furniture and other livelihood materials. Plants provide food to animals and human beings, and they can also be used to produce essential oils, medicines and even ethanol.
- The re-emergency of biomass as an alternative source of renewable energy may indicate a decreasing dependency on fossil fuels.
However, due to their nature and manner of origin, they also pose several disadvantages:
- Because biomass is derived from the environment, their continued utilization can pose severe stress on the environment especially if the raw material being used is wood.
- Despite being renewable, in this time and age, biomass may lead to incurring higher expenses in terms of energy production and development.
- Converting biomass to a usable form of energy may potentially be inefficient and impractical in terms of land acreage and production cost.
However, to address these issues, technology has made the conversion of biomass less taxing and tedious. Power plants known as biomass generators have been developed to aid in releasing the trapped energy for utilization. This is mostly done through refinery and energy generation by combustion.
Burning biomass to generate power is not the only means of transforming the energy it possesses. Organic matter can also produce energy without the combustive power of oxygen through anaerobic digestive processes seen in certain micro-organisms.
The anaerobic conversion of energy leads to the production of biogas, which is produced through the breakdown of biomass material inside a biogas digester. Biogas is often used to generate electricity, that is used for many practical applications such as for cooking, heating and lighting homes and buildings, for farm equipment, and even transportation such as buses, trucks, etc.
The emergence of biogas has been shown to be the future of green or renewable power sources and may indeed lead to less dependence on fossil fuels.
The rapid depletion of fossil fuel reserves indicates a pressing need for an alternative source of energy that is both efficient and renewable. The re-emergence of biomass as a renewable power source may bring the perfect solution to this dilemma. Technology is definitely catching up and it is now up to us to up the ante, so to speak.